01 Dec

Parents are the first and best teachers.  Sitting by the fire, in a post-Thanksgiving food coma, with three young children running around me,  I watch these darling girls in their tutus role playing, twirling, quarreling then hugging. In another year they will be in kindergarten. My kindergarten daughter is now a mother. And I can honestly tell you, she is a truly great teacher. It seems to come naturally. She says she learned it from me.

Children learn language by being immersed in it. When parents lap read, children watch how the eyes move, understand that letters and words have meaning, listen to the beauty and lilt of language and capture the joy. Favorite stories are read over and over. Library visits, bookshelves and family reading time matter. In homes filled with books and print, parents help kids become capable, confident lifelong readers. Print is noticed around the home in an everyday context, then a child graduates to environmental print. There are obvious developmental stages from baby babble to cracking the code.

I was a preschool, K-6 principal and junior and senior high reading and English teacher for over forty years. Now I am teaching two kids, struggling third and first graders. Two days a week I am blessed to care for my three and a half year old granddaughter, Morgan. She doesn’t know it, but we are immersed in pre-reading: tea parties, rhyme, rhythm and predictable patterns. Print awareness, lap reading, and puppets. I moved to Eugene in September to be able to spend quality Nana time.

Nearly 65, here I go again, one more time saying what I want to say:  I walked the talk. I certainly don’t have all the answers,  just a lot of practical experience. I still have one more question swirling around in my head, the pendulum swing regarding dyslexia. The current correct statistic is one in five. I was aware some learning (brain) differences could be neurologically explained; thank you Edutopia for providing answers. Parents, if your child is truly dyslexic, savor the gifts it provides. You are truly your child’s first and best teacher and advocate.

Teachers are my personal heroes, batted about by the storms of political change, holding tight to their creativity and respect. In order to reach Common Core Standards, the fundamentals of reading are necessary to scaffold to higher cognitive instruction. School and home are a partnership. Kids not making the grade are too easily labeled, when it seems obvious that  all children learn best differently. 

That means there is no one best reading curriculum, commercial program or teaching method that teaches all children equally. Nothing replaces one-on-one instruction, along with meeting a student’s interests and skill levels. It goes back to John Dewey and Maria Montessori. Parents modeling the love of reading by reading are already teaching the most basic skill, that reading is a fun and joyous adventure. But if along the way, something’s missing, you have to motivate and fill in the gaps.

 Teaching kids who learn differently to read

It is inconceivable to put a child under stress with a one-minute timed test of nonsense words.  If you are an at-home teacher or tutor, Reading Champs offers easy, ready to use informal inventories and ideas, so you’re all set.  Observation is my favorite way to assess a child’s reading skills. Parents, trust yourself that you have the tools!

  1. Avoid using  scrambled words, word searches and nonsense words to teach skills.
  2. Always use correct models the first time. Then teach everything at least three times, in three different ways. Repetition and review are important.
  3. Learning styles do matter, (Dun and Dunn, Carbo) and Thomas Armstrong’s Multiple Intelligences tell us what we need to know about the gift of learning differences.
  4.  Dyslexic students show more than the most observed reversals of letters and words.
  5. Perhaps many labels can be removed when parents and teachers individualize instruction and sequentially teach the building blocks of reading.

As a veteran teacher, privileged to teach in over five hundred classrooms and at the university level, please let encourage you to know that you’re right. It’s a fact. All children learn best differently, and teaching or reinforcing reading skills at home makes a big difference.

Parents need to know how to teach reading, especially for those children who are already left behind, falling between the cracks, perhaps gifted, with the wrong label. My new book Reading Champs: Teaching Reading Made Easy offers a roadmap for success, the perfect gift that keeps on giving. My gift to you.

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